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TMC runner John Gilbertson: Steps in the right direction

Gilbertson’s emergence as a leader could help The Master’s College reach new heights

Posted: September 19, 2010 10:16 p.m.
Updated: September 20, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Saugus native and The Master’s College sophomore John Gilbertson has stepped into a leadership role for the Mustangs this season. He hopes to help them win a Golden State Athletic Conference championship, and maybe even more.

It is 6 a.m. on July 17, the air is crisp and a light fog has settled on top of Big Bear Lake.

John Gilbertson laces up his shoes, stretches and begins to mentally prepare for a 15-mile workout run with his teammates on The Master’s College cross country team.

The sophomore has run the course before, but not like this.

On his last trip to the mountains, he had teammates Jeff Jackson and Anthony Pizzo to drive the workouts and serve as role models. But on this morning, Jackson is out with a torn quadriceps and Pizzo, recently married, was on his honeymoon.
Gilbertson knows his team is looking to him for guidance.

He begins to run, and with each step, a transition takes place. With each step, the Saugus native becomes a leader.

“It’s pretty indescribable. When you go can out to a place like Hume Lake or Big Bear or Mammoth and you see stuff you don’t see on a daily basis, it opens your eyes,” Gilbertson says. “Since you are out every morning at 6 a.m., there are not many people outside, and it is just you and the road and nature. You just have no choice but to think and take in your surroundings.”

Combined with Jackson and Pizzo, Gilbertson helps form a foundation that TMC head coach Zach Schroeder believes will take his program to new heights.

“They all bring out the best in each other,” he says. “On any given day, it’s who shows up and who races well.”

Last season, Gilbertson says he was content letting the others take the lead in workouts and he seldom let his voice be heard.

That’s changed this summer.

“In that time that when I was hurt and Pizzo was gone, he was coming out every day and doing the workout — not just coming to follow but coming to lead the workout,” says Jackson, who was the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics champion in the marathon last spring.

The Mustangs went on four trips over the summer in preparation for the season.

After traveling to Big Bear, the team went to Hume Lake from July 26-31, then Mammoth from Aug. 2-6 and then back to Hume Lake from Aug. 16-20.

Gilbertson’s mental and physical workload continued to increase, and by the time the season-opening race at Cal State Fullerton came around on Sept. 4, he was more than ready.

“He wasn’t just going out and going through the motions, he was taking every week seriously and putting the work in,” Schroeder says. “We say champions aren’t made overnight. They are made in the weeks, months and years leading up that great performance. It’s clear the runner that John has become is the result of the work he has done, not just this summer, but last spring.

“His volumes were up higher than they’ve ever been in his life, and his threshold was up higher than ever it’s ever been.”

There was evidence of that at Fullerton, where Gilbertson took first place in the 8K race with a time of 25 minutes, 42 seconds.

But that was just the beginning.

One week later at the UC Irvine Cross Country Invitational, Gilbertson finished second with an 8K school-record time of 24:40, leading TMC to a third-place team finish.

“The school record he took down was mine,” Jackson says. “I told him after the race, ‘There isn’t a guy I’d rather pass that to than you.’”

There were 19 teams competing in Irvine, including teams from NCAA Division I.

Gilbertson’s performance earned him NAIA and Golden State Athletic Conference Runner of the Week honors, and helped TMC to a No. 1 conference ranking and the No. 10 spot in the NAIA.

“I feel like each race day is a sacred day, and it shouldn’t be defiled by any kind of distractions,” Gilbertson says. “Race days are when I get to go out and worship God and exalt him, and that’s all I think about really when I’m racing and before the race also.”

That doesn’t mean the he is a passive runner, though.

Gilbertson says that in the heat of competition, “the crazy comes out,” as he pushes for faster and faster times.

“I definitely think that John could be an All-American this year in the NAIA,” Pizzo says. “I think he definitely has enough talent to gain a conference championship.”

This past Saturday, the crazy came out again, when Gilbertson helped TMC take sixth at UC Riverside.

Gilbertson placed 17th out of 332 runners with a time of 24:43.

At the same meet, Pizzo topped Gilbertson’s new school record with a time of 24:28, and Jackson posted a time of 24:59.

Gilbertson made sure to take good care of the Mustangs until Pizzo and Jackson could join him. Now, they hope to push The Master’s College to a conference title and maybe even an NAIA championship.

“I want to let people know that every time we go out and lace up our shoes to go run, it’s not going to be a dilly-dally job and it’s not going to be easy,” Gilbertson says. “... We are not a club. We are a team that works harder than anyone else out there, and it shows by the results.”

It’s a philosophy Gilbertson began to grasp as a freshman, but one that truly sank in at Big Bear Lake in July.

And TMC is reaping the benefits.


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